REIDSVILLE — It didn’t matter to Dan Jones if you were a member of his church — or any other church for that matter. He didn’t judge people even if they had never stepped inside a church.
Dan Jones took the time to seek out the best in everyone he knew. He shared homegrown tomato sandwiches at an old black-and-white enameled kitchen table. Or walked between rows of corn, pulling back the silk to check the ears while spending time with a man many others would brand a sinner and unworthy of his time. He did not condemn the unmarried mother who brought her children to church every Sunday.
Dan Jones was a people person — a man who took each and every person at face value whether he agreed with his or her lifestyle or not.
After he retired from his ministry of 38 years at First Congregational Christian Church, the Virginia native spent many hours every week, visiting people in nursing homes, often entertaining them by playing the piano. He also drove to hospitals in Greensboro and Winston-Salem to spend time with patients. And he served as interim pastor at Ellisboro Baptist Church in Madison for about a year.
People in Reidsville, where Jones moved in 1964 to assume the pastorate at the big brick church on Montgomery Street, called him Reidsville’s pastor because he set no boundaries and reached out to those who could not resist his friendship.
On March 8, the Rev. Daniel Webster Jones Jr., 89, went home to be with his Lord. He lived at home until about a year ago when he moved to the Caswell House in Yanceyville. However, a fall on March 4 resulted in broken bones and a concussion, landing him in Moses Cone Hospital.
Reidsville’s pastor was ready to go home.
Born in Norfolk, Va., Jones attended William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., for a year before marrying Geraldine “Gerry” Jones in 1950. He then worked for Ford Motor Co. and Norfolk and Western Railroad before deciding to further his education while considering the ministry.
His decision to become a minister came in an unusual way. While serving as choir director at a church in Norfolk, two members asked to meet with him one day. At the time, Jones thought they were going to tell him they no longer wanted him as their choir director. And, in a way, they did. They informed him the choir members thought he should become a minister. So he enrolled at Elon College.
While there, Jones served as student pastor at Haw River Christian Church that later evolved into The Lamb’s Chapel. After graduating from Elon, he went to Duke Divinity School but continued his pastorate at Haw River.
Not long after graduating, Jones met with a pastor selection committee from the Congregational Christian Church in Reidsville.
Edwin “Ed” Gunn, a church member for 62 years and a member on that committee, said Jones told them he had promised the Haw River congregation he would stay for a year. Although he had been there for five years, he wanted to stay for another year.
A year later, the committee returned and Jones agreed to come to Reidsville, arriving in January 1965.
In an interview in 2006, Jones said he was concerned about accepting the pastorate because he had never preached three times a week before, and had no experience in radio, the medium through which his message would be heard one month out of the year.
Admitting he came with “fear and trepidation,” Jones accepted the challenge and his congregation flourished. At one time, there were more than 600 members.
He and his beloved Gerry moved into the parsonage the members built across the street from the church. It’s where they raised their son, Michael, and daughter, Collette. And, the Jones family became a part of the neighborhood and also the community.
“Dan served our church faithfully for over 38 years,” Gunn said. “His music, his devotion to those in the nursing home and hospitals were legendary.”
Gunn admitted the board had to “rein him in at times for being Reidsville’s pastor not just the church.”
“His prayer life was known by everyone in the community,” he said.
When Gunn’s mother, Bertie Gunn, passed away, the visiting pastor said, “Dan Jones had more gospel in his prayer than most ministers had in their sermons.”
Perhaps Jones’ greatest legacy was world missions, said church elder Ken Southard, chairman of the missions committee.
While Jones was still in Norfolk, Southard said he had a “great passion to start a World Mission Conference. He even wrote to the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, Mass., to find out what he needed to do. It wasn’t until he came to Reidsville that he was able to realize his vision.”
He led his congregation to establish the World Mission Conference in 1969, providing money and materials to gospel missionaries worldwide. Since then, the Reidsville church has raised more than $1.5 million to support world missions, Southard said.
Presently, they have a budget of about $60,000 a year with 18 missionaries in Indonesia, Spain, Japan, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Peru, at a camp in Doe River Gorge in Tennessee and other places. One works with International Students throughout the United States. Jones also was instrumental in aiding other churches in starting Mission Conferences, including Hines Chapel and Apples Chapel.
“Dan had a passion for lost souls,” Southard said. “While he didn’t care about your circumstances, he cared about a person’s relationship to His savior, Jesus Christ.
“He loved God’s word and he preached it faithfully. He didn’t just preach the Word, he taught it where you could understand it.”
During his long tenure, Jones performed the marriages of numerous couples, then their children and in later years, even some grandchildren as well.
Lifetime member Angela Stadler, who sang at Jones’ memorial service on Monday, said Jones “has always been an integral part of my life. He christened me as a baby, married me to my husband, Bentley, and christened my boys.
“He gave the most moving and heartfelt eulogy I have ever heard after my grandparents, Lonnie and Lillian Brown, were tragically killed in a car accident.
“He was always there whenever he was needed, to provide comfort and support in whatever situation. You never felt that Dan was just going through the motions. You knew he cared about you and that was very comforting,” Stadler said.
“Dan had great joy,” Southard said. “Even in the most difficult circumstances, he always had a ready smile.”
Southard said even after Jones developed dementia, he did not lose his joy.
“The last time I saw him at the nursing home, he was joyous even though I don’t think he really knew who me and my wife were.
“He was my friend, my pastor, and my mentor.”